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Brennan Center Statement on Legislative Defiance of School Funding Mandate

March 31, 2006

For Immediate Release:
Friday, March 31, 2006

Contact Information
Deborah Goldberg, (212) 998–6748

Brennan Center Statement on Legislative Defiance of School Funding Mandate
Lawmakers are not above the law

NEW YORK, NY – The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law expressed dismay today at the legislatures refusal to comply fully with the appellate court decision last week in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, requiring the state to budget a minimum of $4.7 billion in New York City school operating expenses, phased-in over four years, by April 1.

Our dysfunctional legislature is notorious for its failure to produce an on-time budget. said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Center. But dysfunction cannot justify a patent violation of the rights of schoolchildren under the State Constitution.

In 2003, the Court of Appeals (New Yorks highest court) found that the States school funding distribution system provided inadequate aid for New York City schools and ordered the State to cure that constitutional violation. The State, by its own admission, made no attempt to fulfill the Courts mandate, forcing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity back into litigation. The trial court in the second case issued a follow-up compliance order in 2005, requiring specific funding increases. Instead of complying, the State filed an appeal.

On appeal, the Governor argued that the doctrine of separation of powers bars the courts from ordering the State to budget specific amounts to fulfill constitutional obligations. But, as the Brennan Center demonstrated in its friend-of-the-court brief, where unique structural flaws in the legislative and budgeting processes prevent plaintiffs from obtaining a political remedy, courts can in fact intervene. And just last week, the appellate court did intervene, rejecting the Governors appeal and ordering the $4.7 billion budget for City school operations.

On Tuesday, March 28, the New York legislature called for only $400 million in operating aid for New York City schools less than ten percent of what the court required.

There is no excuse for the States failure to appropriate the necessary funds. Only defiance of the courts by executive and legislative leadership prevents adoption of a budget that complies with constitutional requirements, said Deborah Goldberg, the Brennan Centers Democracy Program Director. With the right of schoolchildren to a sound basic education at stake, this is no time to replace the rule of law with the rule of three-men-in-a-room.